Graphic by Kevin Black-Mustang Daily
Graphic by Kevin Black-Mustang Daily

Taking long hot showers, doing small loads of laundry, and leaving a computer on all night are just some of the habits the Green Campus Program is encouraging students to eliminate in its first Poly Canyon Village Energy Competition. The competition is aimed at not only saving Cal Poly money on their utility bills pitting the residents of the nine Poly Canyon housing units against each other to see which one can reduce its energy consumption the most in the next four weeks. Students in the winning residence hall each will get aluminum or steel water bottles and the resident advisers will get new sweatshirts. Green Campus secretary Ravi Sahai wants students to gain a valuable learning experience from the competition.

“I hope that students gain a greater awareness on the importance of sustainability because it’s something important especially for the future and why it’s important to do those things,” he said.

Green Campus is overseen by the Alliance to Save Energy, a national nonprofit, and was started in fall 2007 by four students who initially wrote the 50 page proposal to bring the program to Cal Poly. Once the proposal was accepted, the program was formed and funding became available through grants, and tax payer money from PG&E, and Southern California Edison. Across the state, currently Stanford University, and twelve CSU and UC campuses have this program.

The idea behind the competition is to measure the amount of energy used by each building in terms of dollars. In order to get an accurate reading and make the competition as fair as possible between the buildings, program student interns (along with Green Campus staff advisor and Cal Poly Sustainability Manager Dennis Elliot), installed a separate meter to measure strictly the water, heat, and electricity used by businesses located below housing facilities. That number is then subtracted from the overall building total. At the end of the four week period, the housing facility with the lowest dollar amount per student is the winner. In order to conserve energy, Sahai said the group is mainly encouraging students to change their everyday behaviors by taking five minute showers, washing larger loads of laundry, and by turning off appliances when not in use. Energy use can be especially a problem in the residence and apartment halls because students often think of them as temporary lodging and don’t consider conservation.

“It’s students being aware and getting out of that whole ‘hotel mentality.’ Just because they don’t pay for energy, doesn’t meant it doesn’t matter,” he said.

As an added incentive to keep their energy usage low, the residents of the winning buildings will receive aluminum or steel water bottles and the community advisors will receive sweaters. Journalism fourth year Michael Handler lives in corralitos, and said the potential award has nothing to do with his energy saving efforts.

“Just developing habits like that you can save a lot of money so when we’re adults and we actually have to pay for our electricity, we will realize how much we can actually save for ourselves,” he said.

In previous years, the dorm competition has been held only between the red bricks, and has reduced their energy anywhere from 15-30 percent. The way the program measures energy usage is by splitting it up into three categories: electricity, heat, and water. During the dorm competition in spring 2008 between all six red brick buildings, the students saved Cal Poly an estimated $10,000 in one month. Normally, University Housing spends approximately $41,000 a month on utilities. Elliot said the money saved goes to funding future energy saving projects. This year, Sahai said Green Campus is hoping to at the very least, match that percentage number.

For the 2009-2010 budget, University Housing expects to spend approximately one million in housing utilities for Poly Canyon. If Green Campus accomplishes their goal, housing could save approximately $20,000-$25,000. While the program is anticipating another red bick rivalry winter quarter, public relations intern Danielle Chandler said they wanted to expand it this year to Poly Canyon because they’d never done it before and were looking to get more students involved. But along with competition, comes intense rivalry and competitiveness. While only rumors of using another building’s laundry facility in an effort to affect their energy bill have been whispered, last year students were known to run into other red brick buildings, flip on all their lights or use their showers. While the sabotaging of another building isn’t condoned by the program, both Elliot and Sahai said they take it with a grain of salt and if anything, it shows that students care.

“(Last year) was an interesting experience,” Elliot said. “A very positive topic for us is students being interested (and) it did make it clear that people were aware and paying attention.”

Emily Sandoval, the learning community coordinator for the sophomore success program, said she hopes that at the end, students will realize how even small steps like turning off lights when leaving a room can affect their future.

“I think overall it’s a fun way to start bringing awareness to energy conservation and a fun way for students to realize that they have the power to impact things,” she said. “I’m hoping they learn how everyone plays a part in energy conservation and how even just a little bit that one person can do can affect the bigger picture on a larger scale. Saving energy isn’t that hard.”

In an effort to reduce her energy cosumption, child development sophmore Hayley Gilligan is also making a conscious attempt to change her habits. In addition to turning off lights when she leaves a room, Gilligan leaves the light off in the bathroom during the day and doesn’t turn the fan on in the bathroom after a shower in lieu of letting the room air out itself.

“I hope doing this will get me into the habit of turning off the lights and be good for the environment forever,” Gilligan said. “It’s good for the environment so it’s good for me.”

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